Ultrasound Tech Certification - ARDMS, ARRT, CCI
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For some, the mention of ultrasound technology may bring to mind the roundness of an expectant mother’s belly and the black and white glossy image of a soon-to-be-born child. For others, ultrasound may have been used to follow up on another type of imaging, such as MRI or mammography, for the purpose of screening or diagnosis.
The Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) cites ultrasound as the most frequently used form of imaging for diagnostic purposes after x-ray. Though the first instance may be perhaps the most joyous use of this form of sonography, ultrasound technology is used in many ways—an exploratory tool for a variety of health purposes, concerns, and conditions.
Ultrasound was first used in diagnosis over 70 years ago. It began as a “science of investigation” in the form of SONAR used for sea navigation in WWII. Scientists began using it to image the human body in the 1940s. Now used with the integration of computer software to produce crisp visual images of the body through the use of sound waves, the insights gained from sonography encompass many areas of the medical landscape, including:
- Gynecology (pelvic wellness and infertility)
- Pregnancy (high-risk, ectopic, delivery predictions)
- Fetal imaging (exams, position, sex, gestational age)
- Breast cancer (screening, detection of masses/cysts, biopsy)
- Heart disease (stroke, hypertension, damage, congenital defects, hereditary abnormalities, plaque and coronary artery disease)
- Prostate cancer (screening, biopsy)
- Musculoskeletal issues (soft-tissue and superficial injuries of the nerves, tendons, ligaments, muscles)
The outlook for employment in medical sonography is bright. Growing at a rate much faster than the average for all occupations, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that jobs in this field will swell 17 percent around the country between 2016 and 2026. With an average salary of $65,000, this is a viable career option for compassionate individuals interested in working with people in a variety of healthcare settings. Depending on the area of specialization chosen, ultrasound technologists might work in diagnostic labs, doctor’s offices, hospitals, outpatient centers or other healthcare facilities.
How to Become a Certified Professional Ultrasound Tech?
Becoming certified as an ultrasound technologist or medical sonographer involves the completion of a general education degree, a specialized program in sonography, and passing a certification exam.
The main benefit of registering and earning certification in sonography is that with such a credential, technologists can demonstrate their competence to employers. Certification with an authorized entity provides assurance that professionals have met a set of recognized standards indicative of the expertise required for practice in the field. It is advantageous for medical sonographers to become certified in each of the areas in which they practice.
American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)
Four credentials are offered for sonographers through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography® (ARDMS):
- Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS)
- Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS)
- Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT)
- Registered Physician in Vascular Interpretation (RPVI)
The RDMS certification demonstrates competence in diagnostic medical sonography. Prerequisites for certification include one of the following:
- Bachelor’s degree plus one year of full-time clinical ultrasound/vascular experience
- Bachelor’s degree in sonography or vascular technology
- MD or DO degree with formal training (residency or fellowship), with didactic and clinical ultrasound/vascular experience and completion of a physics class, course, or seminar (general, medical, or sonographic)
Once prerequisites have been met, candidates have five years to pass the corresponding exams. Two exams are required for this certification: a physics exam (sonography principles and instrumentation) and a series of specialty exams (abdomen, breast, fetal echocardiography, obstetrics & gynecology, pediatric sonography).
The RDCS certification is designed for professionals in the field of cardiac sonography. Prerequisites for this certification include one of the following:
- Completion of a two-year allied health patient-care related education program and one year of full-time clinical ultrasound/vascular experience
- Completion of an accredited program in diagnostic medical sonography, cardiac sonography, or vascular technology (CAAHEP/CMA/HSO)
- Bachelor’s degree in any major and one year of full-time clinical ultrasound/vascular experience
- Bachelor’s degree in sonography or vascular technology
- MD or DO degree with formal training (residency or fellowship) with didactic and clinical ultrasound/vascular experience
- MD or DO degree and one year of full-time clinical ultrasound/vascular experience
- Credential from the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) and completion of a physics class, course, or seminar (general, medical, or sonographic)
- Credential from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologies (ARRT) and completion of a physics class, course, or seminar (general, medical, or sonographic)
- Credential from the Australasian Society of Ultrasound in Medicine (ASUM) and completion of a physics class, course, or seminar (general, medical, or sonographic)
RDCS exams include the physics exam (SPI) and specialty exams in adult, fetal, and pediatric echocardiography (AE, FE, PE).
Candidates seeking certification as Registered Vascular Technologists (RVTs) are those specializing in the field of vascular ultrasound. Exams include the SPI and vascular technology specialty exam. Please check the ARDMS site for the most up-to-date eligibility information.
Similarly, professionals seeking a credential in musculoskeletal sonography (RMSKS) are required to take the SPI and the specialty exam in musculoskeletal sonography. Please check the ARDMS site for the most up-to-date eligibility information. Also, physicians and advanced care providers can find information on becoming registered in musculoskeletal sonography through the Alliance for Physician Certification & Advancement (APCA).
Physicians in pursuit of the Registered Physician in Vascular Interpretation (RPVI) credential have a specialized process and exam for their level of professional role in ultrasound interpretation.
The ARDMS also awards a certificate in sonography for midwives. The exam assesses knowledge of the female reproductive system and the fetus during all three trimesters through both computer-based and practical examinations.
The renewal process for ARDMS certifications has four components. To maintain certification involves:
- Payment of an annual fee
- Annual attestation to ARDMS rules and compliance
- Participation in continuing medical education every three years
The final component, the recertification program, is currently on pause.
American Registry of Radiologic Technologies (ARRT)
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologies (ARRT) offers certification for sonographers, through the Primary Eligibility Pathway. Certification is available in:
- Sonography (S)
- Breast Sonography (BS)
- Vascular Sonography (VS)
To pursue ARRT certification, candidates must have earned an associate’s degree or higher in any discipline, completed an ARRT-approved educational program in their chosen area of radiological science, and fulfilled an ethics requirement. The general education requirement can be fulfilled before or after finishing the program in sonography.*
Candidates have three years to apply for certification and registration with ARRT after graduation from their radiological science program. Exceptions apply for candidates with U.S. military training in their chosen field as well as advanced placement options for individuals with prior relevant training.
The ARRT exam tests applicants’ knowledge of the daily tasks of an entry-level sonographer. The exam is created with collaboration from industry experts and is described as “challenging, yet fair.” It is computer-based and begins with a tutorial to enable test-takers to become familiar with the format of questions.
The sonography exam contains 400 items within two segments: sonographic procedures and patient care and physical principles of ultrasound. Total test time (including a 30-minute break between segments) is seven-and-a-half hours.
The breast sonography exam contains 215 items and is four hours in length.
The vascular sonography exam contains 200 questions and is also four hours in length.
The ARRT has prepared content outlines to guide students in preparing for their certification exam. Accommodations for individuals with disabilities included in the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) may be requested when applying for the exam.
Candidates will receive a preliminary score at the test center after taking the exam. Final scores will be mailed within four weeks with an examination results packet containing an official score report and certification and registration results. A passing score on an ARRT exam is 75 out of 99. Students who do not pass on the first attempt will have two more opportunities to take the exam within a three-year period.
Renewal of ARRT certification is annual, entails a quick and easy online process, and payment of a fee. Registered Technologists (RTs) will have continuing education (CE) requirements to complete every two years as part of renewal. CE credits can be earned through participation in approved online classes, self-study, professional society meetings, and classroom study.
In addition, RTs with credentials earned after January 1, 2011 will be required to complete continuing qualifications requirements (CQR) every ten years.
*Note: The post-primary eligibility pathway will be discontinued after December 31, 2019.
Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)
Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) offers certification in several areas of sonography:
- Advanced Cardiac Sonography (ACS)
- Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS)
- Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS)
- Registered Phlebology Sonographer (RPhS)
Advanced Cardiac Sonography (ACS) relates to professionals aspiring toward a career in the echocardiography laboratory. To qualify for the exam, applicants must either:
- Have a high school or general education diploma and be a graduate of an accredited advanced cardiac sonography education program
- Be a graduate of an accredited program in cardiac ultrasound/echocardiography, hold an active echocardiography registry credential, and have seven years of cardiac ultrasound clinical experience as a registered echocardiography sonographer
- Be a graduate of a diploma, associate, or baccalaureate program in health science, hold an active echocardiography registry credential, and have eight years of cardiac ultrasound experience as a registered echocardiography sonographer
- Hold an active echocardiography registry credential and ten years of cardiac ultrasound clinical experience as a registered echocardiography sonographer
The ACS exam is computer-based and administered at Pearson Professional Centers. The application fee for the exam is $450, which includes a $100 non-refundable filing feel.
Requirements, exam information, and fees for the other credentials offered through CCI can be found at the following links:
- Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS): Pediatric Congenital and Adult Congenital Cardiac Ultrasound Certification Examination
- Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS): Cardiac Ultrasound Certification Examination
- Registered Phlebology Sonographer (RPhS): Venous/Phlebology Ultrasound Certification Examination
Professional sonographers credentialed through CCI may apply for renewal by submitting a renewal fee, attesting to CCI’s code of ethics, and completing continuing education units every three years.
Ultrasound Tech (Diagnostic Medical Sonography) Certification Programs
The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) hosts a database of accredited programs in medical sonography according to specialty area as well as degree type. A few accredited programs in general diagnostic medical sonography have been highlighted below:
- Community Medical Centers – Fresno, CA
- University of Colorado Hospital – Aurora, CO
- Delaware Technical and Community College – Wilmington, DE
- Hillsborough Community College – Tampa, FL
- Northwestern Memorial Hospital – Chicago, IL
- Morehead State University – Morehead, KY
- Baton Rouge Community College – Baton Rouge, LA
- UMBC Training Centers – Baltimore, MD
- Center for Allied Health Education – Brooklyn, NY
- Cape Fear Community College – Wilmington, NC
- Rhode Island Hospital – Providence, Rhode Island
- Southeast Technical Institute – Sioux Falls, SD
- El Centro College – Dallas, TX
- Spokane Community College – Spokane, WA